Monthly Archives: April 2013

When it all becomes too much: Reaching Feminist Exhaustion

Yesterday I reached the point of feminist exhaustion.

Jessica Valenti has referred to this as ‘feminist burnout’. And thanks to her and a fairly recently blog she wrote about the subject for The Nation I know that I’m not alone. Sadly, knowing that I’m one of many feminist advocates who feel overwhelmed, deflated, and at a loss with the world doesn’t really make me feel that much better.

In my academic day job I spend most of my time writing, reading, talking, and counselling about eating disorders and concurrent mental health issues including body issues, self-esteem, self-injury, and suicide. My research involves an exploration of the secrecy and stigma that surrounds eating disorders; a primary symptomology of these syndromes that causes far too many to remain isolated, refrain from seeking help, and more often than not, become sicker. It’s a terrifying but very true reality and it’s one that often hits me like a tonne of bricks.

Many with eating disorders struggle, suffer, and do so in silence and completely alone. In my, albeit very biased opinion, little has been done by way of research to assist those with concealed eating disorders. Why? Perhaps the research is too difficult, too complex, but more than likely under-funded and under-appreciated. According to the National Eating Disorder Association, eating disorder based research receives $0.93 funding dollars for each individual affected, in comparison to the staggering $88 funding dollars granted for each individual with Alzheimer’s disease. Yet eating disorders affects an approximate 30 million Americans, while Alzheimer’s reaches 5.1 million. The numbers just don’t make sense, but it explains why my area of research is so lacking.

So I continue to work in an area that is not really respected but still sees millions suffer. At times it becomes too sad to think about.

Outside of academia, I volunteer and advocate for reproductive justice and an end to violence against women. Currently, I volunteer as a client escort for the Morgentaler clinic in Fredericton, New Brunswick – the only public abortion clinic in the Maritime Provinces. I often write about my disgust with the lack of care for women’s reproductive health out East, and the limted attention that neglect of New Brunswick women receives nationally. I also recently started training for a new volunteer position as a crisis interventionist with the Fredericton Sexual Assault Crisis Centre (FSACC). As a city with the third highest rates of sexual assault in the country, FSACC is a vital, crucial, all-too important resource. I have always wanted to get involved with this fantastic organization and, when I heard that they were in need of more volunteers, I figured it was a great time to give it a shot.

But blocking the way of angry anti-choice protestors so a woman can receive an abortion (A CHOICE THE CANADIAN GOVERNMENT HAS DEEMED ALL WOMEN HAVE THE RIGHT TO MAKE) and constantly devling into the harsh reality of rape culture – the lack of sexual assault prosecution, the limited resources for survivors, the shame, blame, and stigmatization that surrounds the victim rather than the rapist – it becomes all too unbearable.

At the end of the day, the world is still a very patriarchal place and women are still forced to make the best of it in the hopes of coming out for the better on the other side.

It’s unfair. It’s unjustice. But it’s reality. So as I’m sure all good feminists do from time to time, I became overwhelmed by it all and wanted to shut down. Tune out the world. Pretend things aren’t as bad as they seem.

But jessica Valenti, in her wise feminist ways, has advice for us exhausted fem2 advocates: embrace it, connect with like-others, use energy where it’s most needed, and remember how important the work is. Because it is important. We have a long way to go, but look at how far we’ve come. It’s the hard work of strong and more than likely exhausted past and present fem2 advocate that got us here.

Prehaps most significantly, Jessica tells us to get creative with our exhaustion.Do something that helps the cause but HELPS YOU at the same time. Activism and self love all at the same time-  that’s something I can get on board with.

Hence why I’m writing about how I feel. I’m not overly creative in the t-shirt making, song writing, ‘paint out your frustration’ kind of way. But I love to write, and I love complaining and forcing others to take part in my frustration (that’s a joke…sort of). Writing is how I express myself, reach a larger audience, and give important topics a stage.

So I use my favorite of forums now to reach out to others in the hopes of connecting in our mutual exhaustion and beginning a dialogue to empower, enlight, and recharge us through the rough feminist waters.

The world will get better if we can make it through the undercurrent of androcentric mentalities and continue doing what we do best – fighting the good feminist fight. But we need each other, creative sounding boards, and lots of complaining to get us through a little less burnt out and a little more hopeful for the women of the world.



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To my Partner on his birthday

Firstly, I’m sorry. I apologize to anyone reading this blog and see it as overtly mushy and completely unnecessary. Yes, this is a blatant public display of affection which, for anyone who knows me well, knows I CANNOT stand. Cringe-worthy and awkward to say the least.

Ok, back to the point. To make a birthday ‘card’ (of sorts) so public could be viewed as narcissistic, perhaps self-entitled, and just plain odd. But I promise you, the reader who I have yet to alienate and scare off by the long-winded preface to this blog, there is a method to my madness.

My partner, Dave, got me into blogging. He’ll deny it and say it was me who ventured into it myself. But in actuality, it was his influence that got me to where I am today. A loud-mouth, blunt, out-spoken feminist blogger and activist. If you dislike my rants, blame him. If you enjoy them from time to time, he’s to thank.

But more importantly, Dave saw something in me long before I had the chance to see it for myself. He saw that I had a passion for change – a desire to make the world a better place, but do so but putting myself on the line and actually watch it happen. As an academic, we often sit back in the safety of our ‘Ivory Tower’ offices and watch the world go by as we research about societal phenomena and hope it will end up working its way to the people that need it most. This, more than anything, is the most frustrating element of being in academia: the lack of pragmatism. Dave saw this – and told me to do something about it instead of complaining.

I still complain, from time to time. But I also started writing. And tweeting. And protesting. And getting progressively angrier and angrier. Now I volunteer. I work in the community. I demand action and call out those who perpetuate injustice.

But this side of me never existed before Dave.

Dave came into my life at a particularly challenging time. I felt lost within my work, unsure of who I wanted to be at the end of my scholastic road, and was extraordinarily lonely. I met him in the most cliché of locations – at a bar. Don’t judge! The bar was merely the location, the fact that we met was fate.
It was fate in that we were meant to find each other, as those who believe in soul mates believe to be true. I needed to be brought out of my shell and he did that for me. He helped me form into the Kathleen that I am today, the Kathleen that I am proud to be, and the Kathleen that sees a bright, rewarding future ahead.
He did this by being himself: kind, considerate, compassionate, kind of silly, deeply serious, yet always supportive.

Dave, without sounding corny (any more so than I already have) is the very definition of love. As a young teenager, Dave founded a not-for-profit to help children he had never even met. As he got older, he worked to fight against child poverty and social inequity. Now, he works to help the women of New Brunswick by acting as an abortion clinic volunteer and speaking out against sexual assault within our community. His academic research focuses on the people of Somalia. He wants to better their lives in the only way he can – by bringing awareness to their plight and finding progressive ways to work with them to help them make their lives better. Collaborative work at its finest.

Dave wants the world to be a better place. If we were all a little bit more like him, I have no doubt it would be.

So on his birthday, I want to thank him for just being him and choosing me to be his partner and (without realizing it) his project. He’s made me a better person. He’s made me develop a love for life I never thought was possible. He’s made me want to do amazing things, and allowed me to see that I actually could.

Dave, thank you for being you. Never change – you are perfect as you are. Except that you’re messy – you could change that.

Happy birthday, with all the faith, hope, and love that I could ever hope to offer. Thank you for letting me spend this, and every day, with you.

Because all children deserve ‘Forever Families’: On the Importance of Same-Sex Adoption

I have a ‘forever family’. It consists of a mom, and dad, and me – their adopted daughter. I grew up in a permanent ‘forever home’ with a loving, supportive family in much the same way other children do with their biological parents.

And with all this love and support I was able to grow into a healthy child who played basketball, roller-bladed, and begged to quit ballet shortly after my very first lesson (you just can’t do a lay-up in a tutu). With the backing of a dedicated support system I was granted every opportunity to flourish into what I consider to be a (relatively) successful adult.

My parents and I don’t share blood, medical histories, or DNA but instead share a bond much deeper than any non-adopted family could possibly begin to understand.  And for that, the privilege that was granted, I’m incredibly lucky, as are many of the 1.5 million Americans who have been adopted into what I hope are similarly loving ‘forever homes’.

But often times I sit back and think about what my life would have been like if my ‘forever family’ hadn’t found me. Who would I have become? Would I have had the chance to go to university? Would I have had the security of knowing that, just a phone call away, I would have a family member who would be willing to help me fight any battle?  Would I even get a birthday card? Or would I have been just another child caught without a sense of permanency, caught within a flawed social system?

Thankfully I wasn’t. And while I’m grateful to all those who had a part in granting me my present-day reality it is tragically not the norm.

Worldwide, adoption is still very rare; the United Nations estimates that 260,000 adoptions occur each year, which equates to fewer than 12 adoptions out of every 100,000 children under the age of 18.What this results in is 13 million double orphans (children who have lost both parents) in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Caribbean who lack ‘forever families’.

13 million.

Let me put this into perspective. In Africa alone, it is estimated that the current rate of domestic adoption would need to be multiplied 2000 times in order to guarantee the approximate 8 million African orphans are adopted into permanent homes. Globally, the number of adoptions of AIDS-related orphans would need to be increased by a factor of 60.

Another 119 million children are single orphans (children who have lost one parent) and may also require adoption into permanent homes.

Within the United States, more than 250,000 children are forced into the foster system each and every year. Approximately half of these children will return to family members, leaving approximately 105,000 children stuck in limbo: with luck finding their ‘forever families’, or, like the nearly 20,000 children in the US, aging out of the foster system, without one. In Canada the situation is not much better: over 78,000 children are still waiting for permanent homes.

This isn’t the first time I’ve spoken about my adoption, the need for increased awareness about adoption, or the importance of viewing adoption as pro-choice. But over the past two months we have been witness to a new intensification of the adoption debate. Or at least, in my opinion it has. It’s time to talk about it.

We have a new Pope. For us non-Catholics this doesn’t exactly change anything ; I doubt any of us, particularly in the feminist world, anticipated a newfound acceptance of our ‘liberal values’ – a modernization of old conservative, misogynist worldviews. But what Pope Francis brings is a particular dislike for same-sex marriage, which he declared a “destructive attack on God’s plan” although coming from a country which has openly accepted same-sex marriage since 2010 (a year, in fact, before New York did). But perhaps even more appalling, Pope Francis has a particular hatred for same-sex adoption.

Not that the Vatican has even really been a fan of same-sex adoption either. In fact, just weeks before the election of Pope Francis, the Vatican once again voiced its distaste for same-sex adoption, believing that children should grow up in “the ordinary way…with a father and mother”.

According to Pope Francis, same-sex adoption is not wrong simply because it’s not ‘ordinary’; to him, the adoption of children by same-sex couples is a “form of discrimination against children”.

But what’s obvious to me is the Pope’s misunderstanding of the term discrimination. Perhaps if he had a more formal understanding what it means to be discriminated against he would view this situation a little different, a little less harshly…or simply with a little more compassion.

So let me provide a definition:

Discrimination, as defined by the Oxford Dictionary, is “the unjust or prejudicial treatment of different categories of people, especially on the grounds of race, age, or sex”

So, the academic in me could say that we could perhaps validate the Pope’s ‘discriminatory’ view of same-sex adopted children if there was evidence to suggest that children adopted by same-sex couples were at risk. Lacking. Limited. Affected negatively in any way by the sexual orientation of their parents.

But here’s the problem: there is none. Empirical evidence supporting the Pope’s ‘discriminatory’ standpoint just doesn’t exist. Thirty years of extensive research finds nothing to suggest that children of same-sex parents are any less likely to thrive. Excel. Be loved in the exact say same that I did with heterosexual parents.

So, who is really being ‘discriminated’ by discouraging adoptions by same-sex couples? The LGBT couples who wish to offer ‘forever homes’ to deserving children, and the deserving children wanting to find ‘forever families’.

Because what those against same-sex adoption and, by virtue same-sex marriage, are essentially suggesting is that children like me – children who have, by no fault of their own, and for reasons mostly unknown to them, been placed for adoption are not deserving of a loving family.

It is better, says those who believe in the abomination of same-sex adoption, that millions of children around the world grow up without ‘forever families’ than to live with a loving couple, who by no fault of their own, just happen to be of the same sex.

People who don’t support same-sex marriage, or the adoption of children by same-sex couples, are in essence denying both deserving children and deserving couples the right to a ‘forever family’. I can find nothing Christian about that, nothing moral about it, and nothing just. This, in my albeit very biased opinion, is the very essence of discrimination.

In the words of Ezra Klein, “adoption by gay couples is one of the best arguments for gay marriage”. Well said, because as far as I’m concerned I would much rather grow up with a ‘forever family’ that happens to have two moms, or two dads, than to live without one.

Cross-posted with permission on Fem2pt0

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